Part 5: Into the Briars
When Imp still hadn’t returned by noon on June 21st, two days later, Piper couldn’t help being worried.
Even keeping herself busy tending to her garden - things were beginning to sprout! - wasn’t distracting her for long, thoughts trailing back to the absence of the white creature.
She knew Imp could look after itself. The thing was probably from the Briars in the first place, if her rising suspicions about the area were at all true. Just because she had taken to treating it like a pet didn’t mean it was a pet. Imp was a wild fae creature - if she was right, anyways - and, like it or not, maybe it had to return to its own realm.
Or something. She shouldn’t be worried about it. Stop worrying about it, dammit!
Piper sighed and glanced back towards the Briar hedge again, much less otherworldly looking in broad daylight then it had been two nights before.
“Please.” Briar’s words echoed in her head, a warning clear in his voice, “Promise me.”
He didn’t want her to go into the Briar’s, and surely he had a good reason. Is Briar connected to that place, to? Is there even a place, or am I just going crazy?
Imp is not a cat. Piper reminded herself, You’re not crazy in that regard, and it had to come from somewhere. The Briar’s are the most logical choice. There is something beyond them, I know it.
There was also the fact that she felt a strong pull to the place, like something wanted her to go into the Briars.
If she’d thought the feeling was strong the last time, now it was nearly impossible to ignore, an incessant tug at the back of her mind.
Is it because of the Solstice? Briar had muttered about it being the Solstice, and she knew from old stories that the barriers ‘between worlds’ were thinner during that time of year, easier to cross. Maybe that was why the place seemed to give off a much stronger aura then before.
Piper managed to keep herself busy and occupied until roughly five o’clock, when the sun began to set and something called to her, an almost singing note echoing through the evening air.
Discarding her gardening gloves and hat, Piper set her shoulders and resolutely headed for the distant patch of thorns, all senses alert.
She wouldn’t go into the Briars, she told herself; she would just take a peak to see if Imp was nearby, to check if anything seemed off.
Because she had a strange feeling that something was wrong, and it only drove her more quickly towards the living wall, worried and curious and stubborn.
There were no ethereal flowers dotting the vines this time, no eerie glow in the evening light. Everything was still, silent, and as she drew closer, Piper wondered if she had been imagining things two nights before, if the Briars had actually been glowing or if it had been a trick of her tired mind...
Then something rustled in the vines and she sunk automatically into a fighting stance, hands lifted and clenched into fists as she tensed, ready and waiting and fuck why had she come out here again-
Imp came barrelling out of a space in the vines she swore hadn’t been there a moment before, launching itself onto her shoulder and nuzzling her face affectionately, purring incessantly.
Relaxing almost instantly at the sight of the familiar creature, Piper reached up to stroke the long ears, lips twitching a bit. “Hey, Imp. You had me worried, glad you’re alright-"
Imp made a strange sound then - like a yip and a chirp and a howl all in one - leaping back to the ground and circling her before stopping in front of the Briars, clearly trying to lead her. The thing looked desperate, this time, terrified and worried and determined, somehow.
“Please. Promise me.”
Even as Briar’s words echoed in her mind, Piper stepped closer to the thorny vines, lips pursing when suddenly there was another opening, one big enough for her. Imp was still chattering anxiously, staying with her as though not wanting to go in without her.
Between Imp’s obvious panic and the overwhelming feeling of sorrow that suddenly assaulted her from within the vines opening, Piper couldn’t resist, swallowing the last of her nerves as she stepped forwards and into the embrace of the Briar’s, following after Imp as it darted ahead of her.
Sorry, Briar, I need to find out what’s going on.
It felt like forever before Piper stumbled out of the vines grasp suddenly, gasping as she swung her arms out to keep her balance. Then she looked up and her heart froze, eyes going murky as she stared at her surroundings in surprise.
Where am I?
There was no way she was still in the back-lot of the summer house. She was in what looked like a dark, ethereal forest, the sky above pitch-black and peppered with the brilliant pinpricks of stars. The trees were all the same blue-green as the Briar’s, and the same flowers from before were everywhere, on the trees and on the ground. A small stream wove through the space, trickling and bubbling just below the small hill she’d come out on.
Piper was entranced, eyes wide as she looked around, taking in everything she could see - noting that this place was big, the trees giving no hint as to just how far they extended back.
A chirp to her left brought her back to the present, Imp waiting till it had her attention before yipping and taking off down the hill, panic still clear in its noises.
“Hold up!” Piper was following in a second, steps loud and out of place in the otherwise quiet realm. Thankfully, they didn’t have far to go; they crested another hill and Imp stopped, chirping and hopping in place, almost pointing down below with its tail.
Stepping forwards to look over the edge, Piper sucked in a breath.
It was a deer as much as Imp was a cat, though that was the closest thing Piper had to compare it to. The basic body shape was the same as a deer’s, but its ears were longer; its mane was made of green feathers, and its single antler looked to be made of crystal.
It was beautiful, and very young, not fully grown.
It was also injured¸ one of its back legs twisted at an odd angle and soft cries coming from the poor things mouth, the sound that she had earlier thought to be singing.
Poor creature must have fallen off the hill. Piper bit her lip, torn between trying to help and keeping her distance, since she knew little about this realm. The deer-thing could be a man-eater, for all it appeared tame.
Imp chirped and ran in a circle before focusing black eyes on her again, almost pleading in its actions.
“Is this why you brought me here, Imp?” Piper whispered, eyes flicking back and forth between the familiar creature and the injured one down below, “To help this... deer?”
Imp jumped in place and yipped, looking slightly less panicked now that she’d understood the message.
Piper took a deep breath, mentally telling herself to calm the fuck down and rolling up her sleeves, “Well, then I guess I’d better try. You better not have led me to my doom, Imp.”
Imp only gave her a look that made her snort despite the situation, skidding slightly as she made her way down the hill, wishing for the traction of her running shoes rather than the slippery bottoms of her mud-boots.
Piper approached slowly, making sure to circle around in front of it, not wanting to startle the creature by coming from behind it. Imp had vanished suddenly, but she didn’t notice, caught suddenly in the not-deers gaze, black and endless.
The creature - Kirin popped into her mind suddenly, though she didn’t know where it had come from - stared at her for a moment before letting out another long, soft sound, one that seemed more hopeful then the mourning cries she’d heard before.
“Hey.” she all but whispered, knowing it heard her when one pointed ear flicked in her direction, carefully inching closer with her hand extended, “I’m here to help... I think.”
When she was close enough the Kirin stretched its neck out in order to sniff her fingers, nose cold against her skin. Piper nearly jumped out of her skin when it licked her suddenly, nuzzling against her hand with an almost-purr, fur soft and silky and warm.
Smiling - and thanking God it didn’t have a taste for flesh - Piper inched closer, daring to scratch the Kirin’s chin and behind one ear, trying to stay calm as she eyed the injured leg.
“Good Kirin,” she cooed at it, not sure what else to address the creature by, “I want to help you. I don’t have any way of treating your leg here, though...”
Piper settled on her haunches and continued to scratch the creatures chin, trying to think things over logically despite the strange situation she was in.
The leg was twisted badly, and she doubted the creature could put any weight on it, judging by the sorrowful cries it had been letting out all evening. Even young as the Kirin was, there was no way she could possibly carry it anywhere, though; she wasn’t that strong.
At least, she mused, the fact that no angry mother-not-deer’s had come charging at her meant it was alone and she wasn’t going to be attacked anytime soon. Hopefully.
Still, she wasn’t really sure what to do. She couldn’t treat it here, but she couldn’t move it anywhere else. Not by herself.
This would be a good time for a big angry Scotsman to come charging through the bushes...
Piper waited, listening intently, shoulders slumping with a rueful sigh and a chuckle when the glowing forest remained silent but for the bubbling of the creak.
“Shoulda known it wouldn’t be that easy.” she mumbled, standing and brushing herself off, “Gotta figure out a way to move you...”
“Piper!” now the voice she’d been hoping for came slicing through the calm and Briar was suddenly there on the hill, no crashing or footsteps or any noise giving her a heads up he was coming, “Ah told yeh not t’come in here, dammit!”
“I know, I’m sorry, you can yell at me later!” Piper’s head snapped up and her grateful words died on her tongue, mouth suddenly dry as she stared at him, “I... uh...”
Briar looked furious, his eyes blue fire as he stared at her, teeth bared in a way that gave him a distinctly menacing look. And yet she could see the panic hiding behind the rage, lacing through his expression and obvious in the tension of his posture.
He was dressed normally - ragged black jeans, biker boots and spiked leather jacket - but he carried an impressive wooden staff, the head of it what looked like a giant amber stone surrounded by woven branches that matched the stone in the leather thong he always wore around his neck. Briar hefted the staff like it weighed nothing despite being almost his height, bracing it against the ground with one hand as his left clenched and unclenched.
Piper cleared her throat, forcing away the sudden heat that had bloomed in her chest and gesturing to the injured creature, pretending not to notice the utterly adoring look the Kirin was giving him.
“Look, I’m sorry, okay? Can we talk about this later?”
“Ye promised ye wouldn’t come in’ere.” Briar’s mind seemed to be on a one-track setting, voice harsh, “It’s not safe in’ere for ye, Piper-”
"Okay, I get it, I wouldn’t have come in here if Imp hadn’t led me in. It brought me to this Kirin; it’s wounded, it fell off that hill and twisted its leg-”
“This is none o’yer concern, Piper, ye need ta leave.”
Breathe, Piper, don’t rip his head off. Yet. ”Look, I’m already here and I want to help, but I can’t carry this thing and I don’t have any tools with me, so can you carry it back to the house-”
“Ye have no idea what ye’re gettin yerself inta-”
“BRENNAN!” Piper snapped with a growl, eyes flashing amber fire as her temper flared, staring down the suddenly silent man, “Just help me get this thing out of here and then we can argue about this, okay?"
“Ye...” he was almost stammering, mouth flapping uselessly a few times as he just stared at her, “Ye... called meh...”
“Your name.” She grumbled, realizing that yeah, in her anger, she’d remembered his name. Figured, didn’t it, that her temper flaring would trigger more memories. “Now please help me get the Kirin out of here so we can help it.”
Briar - Brennan? she didn’t know what to call him now - nodded mutely, stepping forwards and easily dropping down beside the Kirin, his height making it barely a jump.
Piper was once more struck by how tall he was as he moved to stand beside her, craning her neck back to try and watch his face.
“Here.” he held his staff out suddenly, Piper blinking and lifting a hand to grip it, “Ye’ll want te’use both hands.”
He released it and Piper let out a startled yelp followed by a curse, hurrying to grab the staff with both hands before it could topple to the ground, surprised by the sheer weight of it. Damn this thing was heavy! How strong was he?
As if in answer to her silent question, Briar stepped forwards and bent, sliding his arms under the Kirin and lifting it gently, easily against his chest, careful of its injured leg. The Kirin made that soft purring noise again, nuzzling into his shirt even as it closed its eyes, clearly feeling safe.
Briar paused a few feet away from her, face still a stern mask of worry despite the quirking of his lips, “Ye can leave that’ere if it’s too heavy for ye.”
Piper bristled. “I can carry it!” she snapped and, putting all of her strength into it, managed to lift the staff and settle it over her shoulder with both hands gripped tightly, quickly following after him.
The trip back through the Briar wall was much quicker than the way in, Piper scowling when she saw how dark it had gotten. How long had she been in there for?
An excited yipping preceded Imp’s arrival on the scene, the white creature circling around them both before darting towards the house, bouncing near the closed back door.
Piper had to lean the staff on the wall beside the door in order to open it - breathing a hushed sigh of relief once the weight was off her shoulder - holding the door open so Briar could bring the Kirin inside.
“Wait here.” she ordered before hurrying into the house and gathering a bunch of old blankets and towels, returning and setting up a make-shift nest on the floor of the mudroom.
Briar gently laid the creature down on the nest as she went looking for first aid supplies, again taking care with its injured leg.
They bandaged it up silently, so in-synch that Piper felt that familiar terror creeping into her chest, excusing herself to make coffee when it got to be too much.
When Briar hadn’t emerged ten minutes later, she ducked back out to find him just stroking the Kirin’s neck as its eyes drooped, clearly trying to coax it to sleep. Imp was curled on the nest beside it, content now that it had done what it set out to do.
Piper crossed and gave the Kirin a gentle pat on the head when it nudged her hand with a soft coo, curling into itself and seeming to drift off immediately.
Piper returned to the kitchen, Briar following without a single prompt.
He slid into his standard seat and shrugged his jacket off while Piper made their coffees, sliding his across to him with a practiced, familiar motion.
Briar took a sip, and the tension on his face seemed to lessen a little at the taste, lips twitching.
Just the way he liked it; black, two sugar.
“So.” Piper leaned back against the counter and crossed her arms, fighting away the little butterflies that had settled in her stomach, “I think you have some things to explain.”
“Depends on what yer referrin’ to, princess.” Briar muttered, sipping at his coffee and keeping his eyes on the counter.
Piper bared her teeth at the use of the nickname, “You know what I mean, Brennan.”
“When did ye remember...?”
“Not until I got angry and snapped at you in the Briar’s.”
Briar - Brennan - gave a weary sigh, rubbing at his forehead as though he had a sudden headache, “Ye knew Imp isn’t a cat.”
“And ye know that ain’t a deer.”
“Ye still broke yer promise t’me-”
“Because I knew something was wrong!” God, this was going to end up being a shouting match, “And there was nothing there, Briar, so why is it such a big deal-?”
“BECAUSE IT’S DANGEROUS IN THERE!” Briar was on his feet and slamming his hands on the counter, voice a roar as he stared her down, eyes icy blue, “Ye dorn’t have a clue what ye’ve stumbled inta!”
“Why would you care?!” Piper shot back, temper flaring, “So what if I get into trouble?!”
“Because I dorn’t want ye gettin’ hurt, dammit! Ah care, Piper, whether ye like it’er not!”
That shut her up, panic and terror and something else rising up as she stared at him, wide eyed and silent.
Briar growled under his breath and ran a hand through his hair, the sound harsh and wild and god help me I am so fucked.
“It’s a Fae realm.” he muttered, eyeing his coffee with sudden distaste, “An off-branch, really. Ye never know what’s gonna be wanderin’in the Briars. Thas’why it’s dangerous. An’that’s all I’m sayin’.”
In her quest to find something - anything - besides Briar’s face to look at, Piper found her gaze instead landing on his shoulders, where the flowers had changed again.
This time there were full, multi-petaled white blooms with yellow centres woven throughout the shifting vines, pale and brilliant against his tanned skin.
Gardenia, she remembered vaguely from her mother’s flower garden, though she couldn’t remember the significance. Something about that specific flower made her panic swell even more, regardless.
Briar must have seen her look, because he grabbed his jacket and shrugged it back on, the black leather covering the tattoos and breaking her stare.
“It’s late. Ah’ll let ye get some sleep.” he glanced at her and then away, mouth a tight line that drew harshly at his scars, “The Kirin should be fine after a day’er two; jus’feed it fruit. No vegetables or meat, they’ll make it sick.”
“If... yeh need anythin’, well. Y’know where ah am.”
He skulked to the door then, opening it and pausing before looking back at her, blue eyes sad and tired and so tender her heart leapt in both excitement and terror. “G’night, Piper.”
Then he was gone, and Piper was left alone with his half-empty coffee mug and her traitorous thoughts, all centered on the way he had looked at her.
I am so very, very fucked.